Crocodile (Manchester International Festival)

'…I’m not angry with you, Zack, I’m angry in general. I’m an artist, that’s my job…'

 

Sophie has recently cast THE CROCODILE by Tom Basden, for the Manchester International Festival (directed by Ned Bennett and produced by The Invisible Dot).

 

THE CROCODILE is a Dostoevsky short story adapted/ embellished for the stage by Tom Basden (BBC’s The wrong mans, BAFTA/British Comedy Award nominee).

Having failed to achieve the recognition that he craves and, in his opinion, deserves, self-important actor Ivan Matveich discovers that his stock is about to rise dramatically when an afternoon at the zoo with his friend Zack ends with Ivan being swallowed whole by a Crocodile.

 

★★★★ The Telegraph, Jane Shilling:

Tom Basden, whose writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat and Plebs, finds a thoroughly modern resonance in Dostoyevsky’s distaste for a society glamoured by celebrity and the perverse logic of free market economics. His dramatization, commissioned for the Manchester International Festival, transforms Ivan (a flamboyantly seedy Ciaran Owens) from a civil servant into a failed actor. 

Simon Bird – no stranger to celebrity after his BAFTA-winning performance as Will, the posh boy from E4’s teen comedy (and subsequent film) The Inbetweeners – reprises a grown-up version of Will’s nerdy persona as Ivan’s painfully respectable old friend and straight man, Zack.

Basden’s witty updating treats Dostoyevsky’s original with a nicely assured mixture of respect and irreverence. Bennett’s direction maintains a fine balance of contained anarchy, beautifully supported by Fly Davis’s subversive designs. There is a dashing, semi-improvisatory feel to the performances. Bird’s plaintively rational Zack is an eloquent voice of beleaguered caution, beset on every side by the increasingly grotesque rationalizations of his old friend and the woman he loves. 

Owens and Sidi make a beautifully nuanced progression into surreal cupidity as Croc Monsieur and Madame, while Larwood, as the glittery-eyed advocate of unregulated capitalism, makes an increasingly florid series of costume upgrades, from loud tweeds as the English zoo-owner with a keen eye for product placement to gold lame pantaloons as the Russian Tzar. The overall effect is of an ensemble who are having a high old time, and their evident pleasure in this savagely silly satire is entirely infectious.

 

★★★★ The Times, Kate Maltby:

[...] Tom Basden turns Dostoevsky’s allegory of Capitalist humanity into sharp satire on political celebrity in the Twitter age. Ciara Owens is by turns absurd, charming and subtly sinister as the idealistic but vain Socialist Ivan, who career is tanking until the crocodile makes him a star attraction. Where he might veer too crudely into pomposity, he’s punctured by Simon Bird as the straight man, Zack, [whose] comic timing works as successful on stage as on screen. [Meanwhile] Emma Sidi is amply capable as Anya, the girlfriend, on and off, of both men.

 

★★★★ Chortle, Steve Bennett:

The Casting couldn’t have been better. The cautious and cynical Zach involves playing to dry sardonic type for Simon Bird, while the lesser-known Ciaran Owens relishes every moment of flamboyance and showmanship and truly owns the stage. While the pair exchange dextrous verbal volleys, ‘fish-eyed’ scene-stealing clown Marek Larwood brings plenty of exaggerated physical humour to his multiple hilarious roles. The cast is completed by a very watchable Emma Sidi, who flip-flops between the attentions of the two leads. …  The absurdism as nicely played, and the formidable performances bring out the wit.

 

★★★★ whatsonstage.com, Matt Trueman:

Fyodor Dostoyevksy’s novella, adapted with comic zip by Tom Basden, is a snappy little satire – not just about artists propping up the system they profess to despise, turning their protests into product and smoothing their art’s edges for the sake of success, but also about the way the free market co-opts us into compliance and competition.[…]

 

Owens makes a gregarious hypocrite, ostentatiously dressed in a slick alligator-skin tailcoat, scales like sequins, designed by Fly Davis. As Ivan’s best friend Zack, a level-headed legal clerk, Inbetweeners star Simon Bird is, well, Simon Bird-ish – but his superior small-time schtick is exactly what the part needed – and Emma Sidi injects energy as his girlfriend Anya, who gives into celebrity to become the Croc Madame.

 

★★★★ Manchester Evening News, Dianne Bourne:

Think of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, and comedy doesn’t exactly spring to mind. But the Crime and Punishment author did turn his hand to more whimsical matters with his short story The Crocodile, which is brought to the Manchester International Festival in a new production from The Invisible Dot company and writer Tom Basden. And they have certainly wrung every surreal comedic moment from their starting text in this ferociously funny show.Inbetweeners star Simon Bird expertly draws the exasperation of Zack while Ciaran Owens puffs out the pomposity of Ivan in a brilliantly robust performance. […] Throw into the mix Zack’s girlfriend Anya (an excellent Emma Sidi), who also happens to be the ex of Ivan, and there’s added spice to the mix. […] Special mention to Marek Larwood who brings to life a succession of surreal characters along the way, from zany zookeeper up to the Tsar himself in golden pantaloons at the side-splitting finale.It all makes for a satisfyingly cerebral night of absurdist comedy.

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ZACK Simon Bird
IVAN Ciarán Owens
MR POPOV Marek Larwood
ANYA Emma Sidi
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